Why insider-outsider debate is irrelevant in Punjab politics

Elections ought to be fought on real issues including Punjab’s drug addiction problems.The cry about outsider is against the dictates of logic.

Arvind Kejriwal, Punjab, AAP

Delhi Chief Minister and AAP national convener Arvind Kejriwal addressing the public in Punjab. Pic: Facebook @AAPPunjab

In the ongoing electoral battle for Punjab, both Sukhbir Singh Badal and Captain Amarinder Singh have indulged in broadsides at Arvind Kejriwal’s so-called ‘outsider’ status, asserting that his ‘outsider’ status did not entail him to entertain the thought of entering Punjab politics.

It is unclear what Kejriwal’s own thoughts on this matter are. He has been ambiguous about it. But, what is worthy of investigation is the abstract tag of ‘outsider’ and its possible meanings and implications.

Constitutionally, as an Indian citizen, Arvind Kejriwal is right. As a citizen, he is entitled to pursue a political career anywhere in the country.

In the days of yore before the Election Commission imposed a rather steep deposit amount for contesting elections, many candidates thought nothing of standing against popular political leaders and enjoying their fifteen minutes of fame.

That, rightly so, is a thing of the past. Today, candidates think twice before stepping out of their turf.

Even a neighbouring constituency is a scary prospect. Another state is rare. Given that, one must commend Kejriwal’s courage, regardless of whether it is fool-hardy or a calculated risk.

That Capt. Amarinder Singh has termed Kejriwal an outsider is amusing, given that the tallest leader of his own party is Sonia Gandhi, who was born Italian and became an Indian citizen only in the ‘80s around the time that her husband was embarking on a political career.

For close to a decade-and-a-half after marriage, she chose to retain her Italian passport.

Given that she came within whispering distance of becoming our Prime Minister, that the Captain has even chosen to bring this issue into the debate is like asking for it. In fact, the BJP went to town with their claim of Sonia Gandhi’s outsider status.

One could even conjecture that that was precisely the reason why she shied away from becoming PM.

Then there is the matter of Sikhism’s rich history of welcoming all seekers into their fold with open arms.

On Baisakhi day, 1699, the day the Khalsa was formed, Bhai Daya Singh Ji, Bhai Dharam Singh Ji, Bhai Himmat Singh Ji, Bhai Mohkam Singh Ji and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji were the first five to answer the Guru’s call for volunteers—the fabled Panj Pyare.

Of the five, only Bhai Daya Singh Ji (born Daya Ram) hailed from Punjab as he was from Lahore.

Bhai Dharam Singh Ji (born DharamRam) was from Meerut in UP.

Bhai Himmat Singh Ji (born Himmat Rai) was from Odisha. Bhai Mohkam Singh Ji (born Mohkam Chand) was from Dwaraka in Gujarat and Bhai Sahib Singh Ji (born Sahib Chand) was from Bidar in Karnataka.

Are the four of them then to be termed ‘outsiders’? Even Banda Singh Bahadur too hailed from Rajouri in Jammu.

The Guru Granth Sahib also makes no insider-outsider distinction. Many of those whose verses are enshrined in the sacred text and given pride of place were not from Punjab.

Bhagats Kabir, Namdev, Ravidas besides many others, all hailed from other regions.  That did not disqualify them in the eyes of Guru Arjan Dev Ji.

Even if one were to look at the history of modern India, many perceived ‘outsiders’ have been given pride of place in their adopted states.

The late CM of Tamil Nadu, M G Ramachandran (MGR) was a Sri Lankan by birth who traced his roots to Kerala. Yet, he held sway over the Tamil masses first as an actor and then as a politician. His protégé, J Jayalalitha too traced her roots to Karnataka.

In Karnataka, a retired IPS officer, H T Sangliana who hails from Mizoram served as an MP for a term. Also, the state’s one-time CM, Dharam Singh traces his ancestral roots to Rajasthan.

The current CM of Jharkhand, Raghubar Das is originally from Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh. Born in Chhattisgarh, he moved to Jharkhand as a result of his father’s employment with Tata Steel in Jamshedpur.

The first CM of Uttarakhand (then Uttaranchal), Nityanand Swami who assumed office in November 2000 when the state was formed, hailed from Narnaul in Haryana.

He too moved to Dehra Dun since his father was employed with the Forest Research Institute in Dehra Dun.

Also worthy of consideration by both the Akalis and the Congress is also Punjab’s long history of migration to foreign lands.

In Canada, Punjabis have for long served with distinction in cabinets, both at the federal and provincial levels. The present Trudeau administration boasts of as many as four Punjabis in his cabinet.

The UK and US too can boast of several Punjabis in both major and minor political positions. Overseas Punjabis are a constituency that both parties assiduously court.

Surely, they understand that the outsider tag doesn’t help their cause either as they too run the risk of being similarly branded by native-born Americans or Canadians.

The facts as they stand, speak for themselves. Elections ought to be fought on real issues. Punjab’s drug addiction problem, the state of its agriculture and education and a host of other issues are crying for attention.

In such a grim scenario, to cry about outsider is against the dictates of logic. Equally, it is against the state’s ethos that has welcomed everyone.

* Karthik Venkatesh lived in Bathinda, Punjab between 2005 and 2016 and ran a rural school. He is now an editor and freelance writer based out of Bangalore.Views expressed are personal.

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